Monday, March 25, 2013

Rocamora Review and Blog Tour

Rocamora by Doanld Michael Platt
review copy provided by author via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Synopsis:

Rocamora, a novel of 17th century Spain, is based on the life of Vicente de Rocamora, who struggles to make his place in a Spain obsessed with limpieza de sangre, purity of blood untainted by Jew, Moor, or recent convert.
Poet, swordsman, and master of disguise, at the insistence of his family, Vicente enters the Dominican Order and is soon thrust into the scheming political and clerical hierarchies that at Court.
Vicente becomes Confessor and Spiritual Director for King Philip IV’s teenage sister, the beautiful Infanta Doña María, five years younger than he, protégé and possible successor of Inquisitor General Sotomayor, and an invaluable assistant to the King’s chief minister, the Count-Duke de Olivares.
Vicente needs all his skills and cunning to survive assassination by a growing list of ruthless foes in both Church and Court, solve a centuries-old riddle to quell rumors of his own impurity of blood, and above all suppress his love for the seemingly unattainable María.

My Take:
While the novel Rocamora by Donald Michael Platt spans not quite thirty years, it feels like a huge epic tale. The novel doesn't even cover Vicente de Rocamora's whole life, yet it feels like it spans much more time.  Vicente's life, as told in the book, is a strange, eventful, dangerous, exciting and rather sad one. An orphaned Vicente is taken in and educated by a family friend with some rather shady connections. Vicente is trained in the art of disguise and the sword. Both of these come in rather handy for Vicente. Even though he winds up a member of the Dominican Order, he maintains his friendship with these less respectable, but often nobler and truer friends of his youth.

It seems that everyone around him has a plan for his life and the only person not consulted is Vicente himself. Everyone seems to see him as a perfect pawn in the various political games being played all around. They want him to spy for them, obtain a title for them, play this role, play that role, and all the while it seems that everyone is bent on thwarting Vicente's own plans for his life.

Rocamora provides a fascinating look at Spain during the early 1600's and provides a very detailed description and some explanation about the influence of the Catholic Church and the power, influence, and intimidation of the Inquisition during this period. I was very impressed with the detailed descriptions of life at court, the dress, the customs, the importance of the purity of family bloodlines in Spain during the 1600's. I learned so much about Spain just from reading this book.

If you like swashbuckling tales of derring-do, or tales of intrigue and scandal or just enjoy history, this is a book for you because it has all of this and much more. I couldn't possibly summarize everything that happens in this story.
















About the Author

Donald Michael PlattBorn and raised inside San Francisco, I graduated from Lowell High School and received my B.A. in History from the University of California at Berkeley and won a batch of literary cash awards while in graduate school at San Jose State.
When I moved to southern California, I began my professional writing career. I sold to the TV series, MR. NOVAK, ghosted YOUR HAIR AND YOUR DIET for health food guru, Dan Dale Alexander, and wrote for and with diverse producers, among them as Harry Joe Brown, Sig Schlager, Albert J. Cohen, and Al Ruddy as well as Paul Stader Sr., dean of Hollywood stuntman and stunt/2nd unit director. Also, options were taken on my unpublished WWII fighter ace novel and several treatments.
After living in Florianópolis, Brazil, setting of my horror novel A GATHERING OF VULTURES, Dark Hart 2007, Briona Glen 2012, I moved to Florida where I wrote as a with: VITAMIN ENRICHED, pub.1999, for Carl DeSantis, founder of Rexall Sundown Vitamins; and THE COUPLE’S DISEASE, Finding a Cure for Your Lost “Love” Life, pub. 2002, for Lawrence S. Hakim, MD, FACS, Head of Sexual Dysfunction Unit at the Cleveland Clinic.
Currently, I reside in Winter Haven, Florida. My magnum opus historical novel, ROCAMORA, set in 17th century Spain and Amsterdam during their Golden Ages, was released by RAVEN’S WING BOOKS at the end of December 2008. It has been republished by Briona Glen, September 2011. My completed sequel HOUSE OF ROCAMORA was published by Briona Glen November 2012, and I am polishing a completed novel set in the 9th century Carolingian Empire about another unusual historical character, Bodo, the Apostate.
Please visit Donald Michael Platt’s Website for more information.

Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Monday, March 25
Review at A Book Geek (Rocamora)
Tuesday, March 26
Review at A Bookish Affair (Rocamora)
Review at Man of a Book (Rocamora)
Wednesday, March 27
Review at Flashlight Commentary (Rocamora)
Thursday, March 28
Review at Book Addict Katie (Rocamora)
Review at Words and Peace (House of Rocamora)
Friday, March 29
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews (Rocamora)
Monday, April 1
Review at Unabridged Chick (Rocamora)
Tuesday, April 2
Review at Rebel PuritAn (Rocamora)
Wednesday, April 3
Review at Book Dilettante (Rocamora)
Thursday, April 4
Review at A Bookish Affair (House of Rocamora)
Review at Flashlight Commentary (House of Rocamora)
Friday, April 5
Review at Book Dilettante (House of Rocamora)
Monday, April 8
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews (House of Rocamora)
Tuesday, April 9
Review at The Musings of a Book Junkie (Rocamora)
Wednesday, April 10
Review at Man of la Book (House of Rocamora)
Review at Unabridged Chick (House of Rocamora)
Thursday, April 11
Review at Turning the Pages (Rocamora)
Friday, April 12
Review at Broken Teepee (Rocamora)
Monday, April 15
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book! (Rocamora)
Tuesday, April 16
Review at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time (Rocamora)
Wednesday, April 17
Review at Layered Pages (Rocamora)
Thursday, April 18
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book! (House of Rocamora)
Friday, April 19
Review at Broken Teepee (House of Rocamora)
Review at Confessions of an Avid Reader (Rocamora)






Friday, March 22, 2013

The Bruges Tapestry Review and Blog Tour


The Bruges Tapestry by P.A. Staes
review copy provided by author via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Synopsis:

Following a 500-year-old mystery concerning a Flemish tapestry is routine work for Detective Claire DeMaer, since she’s employed by the Newport Beach Art Theft Detail. But, unlike past cases, this one involves arresting Paolo Campezzi, lover to her best friend Nora. Mr. Campezzi is a distant descendant of a Florentine Duke, who commissioned the tapestry in 1520 in Bruges, Belgium.
Claire finds that she must explore the true provenance of the tapestry, free Mr. Campezzi in order to re-establish her friendship with Nora and depend on the expertise of a textile expert she doesn’t know. All this must occur in 72 hours, before the Vatican takes the tapestry back.
But Claire isn’t the only one with the Vatican looking over her shoulder. Claire’s story intertwines with a 1520 diary by Beatrice van Hecke, the tapestry-weaver’s daughter. Only Claire can discover the secret that is woven in time.

My Take:
The Bruges Tapestry by P.A. Staes is a beautiful little book. I say beautiful because the cover is absolutely gorgeous and little because it is fairly short at 246 pages including explanatory notes and resources at then end. The story line flowed very quickly and I finished reading it in a day.

Beatrice's story takes place in the early 1500's and these were probably the most engaging chapters of the book, for me. The "Prologue: 1520 Bruges, Belgium" sets the tone of these chapters. There is immediate tension and anticipation of the revelations to come. Beatrice is a sympathetic character  as is her poor sister, Marie; both are victims of lecherous old men. I couldn't stop turning pages even though I knew bad things were in store for them. There is also lots of interesting information about just how powerful the Church was during this period and about the day to day life of people.

I really enjoyed all the details given about the manufacturing of the tapestries. There is a lot of important information relayed without getting bogged down.  I also have to note that I really loved the font used in these chapters. It has a slightly archaic look to it and does add to the general atmosphere of these chapters.

The modern day chapters involving Claire were a bit more uneven for me. I thought Claire's career was very interesting and I would have enjoyed more details about how that job works, exactly. The story starts off at a good pace and I was very involved, but as the story progresses, I had some issues.  I thought the premise was good, but some of the coincidences seemed almost too much. I thought the resolution was a bit rushed. I wanted more detail explaining why Claire's grandmother just happened to speak and read Flemish; just throwing it in there seemed too coincidental. There were also a couple of continuity issues as well.

Despite these few problems, I thought the premise was great and I would like to read more about Claire and learn more about her job and her family history. I'm pretty sure there has to be a great story there. Why did her family move the United States? When did they move? Her grandmother still speaks Flemish, so it can't have been that long ago. I also wanted to learn more about Beatrice. There is a brief, vague explanation of what happened to her, but I want to know more.

If you like historical fiction about women and are at all interested in tapestries and their making, this is a book you might enjoy. After reading this book, I have noticed that Bruges and the tapestries made there are mentioned fairly often in historical fiction about the 1500's. This book has made me much more aware of the area and given me a better appreciation of tapestries.

PA StaesAbout the Author

P.A. Staes is the author of The Bruges Tapestry; the first of the Clare DeMaere series of historical mysteries. To lend veracity to The Bruges Tapestry Ms. Staes traveled to Stirling Castle in Scotland, The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, The Cluny Museum and Gobelin Factory in Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Cloisters to bring alive the rich and romantic world of tapestry. Ms. Staes lives in Southern California with her husband and two dogs.

Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Monday, March 18
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, March 19
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Review & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, March 20
Review at Turning the Pages
Guest Post at Book Lovers Paradise
Thursday, March 21
Review & Giveaway at Kinx’s Book Nook
Friday, March 22
Review at A Book Geek
Monday, March 25
Review at A Bookish Affair
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, March 26
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Wednesday, March 27
Review at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Thursday, March 28
Review at The Book Garden
Interview at The Maiden’s Court
Friday, March 29
Guest Post & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Tuesday, April 2
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Wednesday, April 3
Guest Post at A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, April 4
Review at Book of Secrets
Review & Giveaway at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Friday, April 5
Review at Broken Teepee




Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Tale of Lucia Grandi Blog Tour and Review

The Tale of Lucia Grandi: The Early Years by Susan Speranza
review copy provided by the author via TLC Book Tours
Description from Goodreads:
When an old woman is asked to tell the story of her life, she tells is an intense and poignant tale about growing up in and surviving an irrational, warring suburban family during the 1950s and 60s. The narrative is told from Lucia’s perspective as the second child where she and her siblings are caught in the middle of a lifelong war between her mother, Ruth, an overbearing, unhappy homemaker, and her father, Leonard, a manipulative, sometimes violent New York City cop. Lucia is the silent, thoughtful eyewitness to her parents’ constant and sometimes life-threatening battle.

The story is told as a memoir; each chapter describes a particular incident in Lucia’s life which shows the constant struggle between her parents and the perverse effect it has on her and her siblings. From her complicated and unwanted birth, to her witnessing a suicide at age 3, to her stint as a runaway at age 14, the story progresses to the final crisis where as a young woman, she is turned out of her house and banished from her family forever.

This timeless story of one woman’s courageous attempt to come to terms with her past and the troubled family that dominated it is powerfully and poignantly told.



My Take:
The Tale of Lucia Grandi is told from the perspective of Lucia as an old woman looking back on her life as she tells her life's story to a doctoral student. As such, there is a certain understanding of the causes and effects of the events in her life that wouldn't be in evidence if the story were told by her younger self. The story of Lucia's life is for the most part, quite sad and unstable. She has a stable home in that both mother and father are present, but they are actually her biggest problem. Her mother is cold and seemingly uncaring towards Lucia and her father has a violent temper. The parents fight constantly and there is always tension and competition between all the family members. The one point of light in her young life is her grandfather, whom she loves devotedly and who provides a young Lucia with love, affection and hope.

I loved the premise of this book. It had so much potential. In some ways, it worked for me and in others it kind of didn't. There is an issue with Lucia's age when the book begins and when she is born. The time isn't explicitly stated regarding when the interview with the graduate student takes place, but it would have to be set in the future for the rest of the story to work in the timeline. Since this isn't explained, it is a bit perplexing for the reader.

Given that Lucia is 110 when she begins her narrative, she seems to have a very good memory - at least regarding certain events in her life. I was able to rationalize this by thinking that maybe she has had a lot of time to think about her life and ponder the events and  their consequences. She makes note that she has been alone with no visitors for many years. This enabled me to decide that she had spent much of her time dwelling on her life and she is then well prepared to talk about the issues and events that had so much influence on the outcome of her life.

 I think that the book could use a really good editor though. While the story is compelling, there are issues with continuity and reusing the same phrases and sentiments too many times. This can be a little distracting for the reader. I found myself going back to previous chapters because this or that phrase sounded so familiar.

While the book is not perfect, I will admit that I was interested enough in Lucia's story to be disappointed at the abrupt ending and would be interested in reading what happens to her after this point. It is hard to believe that something better is not in store for her. How could she survive for so long if all she has known is sadness? I hope that Lucia goes on to have a full and happy life just to prove her judgmental parents exactly  how wrong they were about her.



About Susan Speranza

ONCE UPON A TIME…
…I was born in New York City and grew up on Long Island where I had an interesting and creative childhood. Once in college, I studied Psychology and Philosophy, but since “thinking” didn’t translate into earning money or job security, I worked at a variety of different and unrelated jobs both in New York City and on Long Island.
In order to keep me sane through all the craziness of life, I spent my spare time writing. Anything and everything. The culmination of this was a fantasy – The City of Light – which has recently been reissued as an ebook.
I took up the hobby of dog showing and breeding and produced many Pekingese Champions. You can see them over at our Castlerigg Pekingese website.
Somewhere in the middle of my life so far, after a great personal upheaval, I went back to school, became a High School Librarian. I managed to fulfill my childhood dream of living in the country when I finally escaped suburbia and moved to Vermont where I now happily live with my beautiful Pekes.
But I’ve never stopped writing.
My biography (as with my life, I hope) is to be continued…
Visit Susan at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

Susan’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, March 5th: JulzReads
Wednesday, March 6th: Books in the Burbs
Thursday, March 7th: she treads softly
Monday, March 11th: Becca’s Byline
Tuesday, March 12th: Book Journey
Wednesday, March 13th: Between the Covers
Thursday, March 14th: Reflections of a Bookaholic
Friday, March 15th: Chaotic Compendiums
Tuesday, March 19th: Bookish Habits
Wednesday, March 20th: A Book Geek
Thursday, March 21st: Curling Up by the Fire
Monday, March 25th: West Metro Mommy
Tuesday, March 26th: From L.A. to LA
Wednesday, March 27th: Dwell in Possibility
Thursday, March 28th: …the bookworm…
Monday, April 1st: It’s All About Books




Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Lesson in Secrets - Month of Maisie Blog Tour

A Lesson in Secrets (Maisie Dobbs #8) by Jacqueline Winspear
review copy provided by Harper Perennial via TLC Book Tours
Description from Goodreads:

In the summer of 1932, Maisie Dobbs’ career goes in an exciting new direction when she accepts an undercover assignment directed by Scotland Yard’s Special Branch and the Secret Service. Posing as a junior lecturer, she is sent to a private college in Cambridge to monitor any activities “not in the interests of His Majesty’s Government.”

When the college’s controversial pacifist founder and principal, Greville Liddicote, is murdered, Maisie is directed to stand back as Detective Chief Superintendent Robert MacFarlane and Detective Chief Inspector Stratton spearhead the investigation. She soon discovers, however, that the circumstances of Liddicote’s death appear inextricably linked to the suspicious comings and goings of faculty and students under her surveillance.

To unravel this web, Maisie must overcome a reluctant Secret Service, discover shameful hidden truths about Britain’s conduct during the war, and face off against the rising powers of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei—the Nazi Party—in Britain.

A pivotal chapter in the life of Maisie Dobbs, A Lesson In Secrets marks the beginning of her intelligence work for the Crown. As the storm clouds of World War II gather on the horizon, Maisie will confront new challenges and new enemies—and will engage new readers and loyal fans of this bestselling mystery series.


My Take:

A Lesson in Secrets is another fine addition to the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. We find our heroine, Maisie Dobbs little a bit older, a bit wiser and ready for some new challenges.  Her main new challenge is working undercover for the British Secret Service at a small private college whose founder is a controversial pacifist. Things take an interesting turn when the founder of the college, Greville Liddicote turns up murdered soon after Maisie starts working at the college as a lecturer. While Maisie is supposed to leave the murder investigation to Scotland Yard and focus on her own assignment, she is pretty certain the cases overlap and thus has to tread carefully between the two different  departments. 

Naturally, Maisie is able to spot several different paths for the investigation and manages to follow up on each of them while maintaining her teaching schedule and running her own investigation business in London with the help of her assistant and friend, Billy Beale. 


There are actually several different issues that Maisie must deal with in this novel. She is quite capable and her perceptive nature and special training help her stay several steps ahead of the police investigators. I always love the detailed descriptions of all the work Maisie and Billy put in while working on their cases. Their methods seem quite advanced and intuitive. 

Although some of the things Maisie finds out trouble her, the Secret Service seem less inclined to be concerned. There is an attitude of dismissal regarding the activities of the Nazi party that is puzzling but interesting considering their very different attitude about pacifists and conscientious objectors.

There are so many secrets in this book, hence, I would assume, the title. It isn't just the individual people who have their secrets, the government and military have theirs too. There is much to consider in A Lesson in Secrets, as there are in the other Maisie Dobbs books. I often find myself thinking about certain ideas or issues that came up in the book long after finishing the book. That is one of the things I love about Maisie Dobbs books -- they are never simple even though they are easy to read, there are always many issues to contemplate after closing the book.

A Lesson in Secrets deals with the ideas of peace and pacifism and what the motivations for both are. It also looks as the way others, including governments, look at these ideas and touches on some of the implications of war, peace, profits to made on wars and the conflicting motives of the players involved. Of course, it also deals with secrets - personal, government, commercial -- the effects of secrets, both benign and extremely bad. 

I was struck again while reading A Lesson in Secrets by how much effort Maisie had to put  into finding out information and the seemingly long wait for the information to arrive. I think this acceptance that things take time and not expecting instant information contributes to the much more relaxed pacing of the book and yet doesn't detract from the interest or urgency of the story. I really enjoy letting the mystery unfold at a leisurely pace instead of the rushing, headlong, mad dash that characterizes so many modern mysteries. Reading Maisie Dobbs books are always enjoyable and help me to slow down and consider things a bit more carefully - at least for awhile.



About Jacqueline Winspear

Jacqueline Winspear was born and raised in the county of Kent, England. Following higher education at the University of London’s Institute of Education, Jacqueline worked in academic publishing, in higher education, and in marketing communications in the UK.
She emigrated to the United States in 1990, and while working in business and as a personal / professional coach, Jacqueline embarked upon a life-long dream to be a writer.
Jacqueline Winspear is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Elegy for Eddie, A Lesson in Secrets, The Mapping of Love and Death, and Among the Mad, as well as five other national bestselling Maisie Dobbs novels. She has won numerous awards for her work, including the Agatha, Alex, and Macavity awards for the first book in the series, Maisie Dobbs, which was also nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel and was a New York Times Notable Book. She now lives in California and is a regular visitor to the United Kingdom and Europe.
Find out more about Jacqueline at her website, www.jacquelinewinspear.com, and find her on Facebook.

Jacqueline’s Tour Stops:

Monday, March 4th: The House of the Seven Tails – Maisie Dobbs
Monday, March 4th: BookNAround – Birds of a Feather
Wednesday, March 6th: Peppermint PhD – Pardonable Lies
Thursday, March 7th: Melody & Words – Birds of a Feather
Thursday, March 7th: The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader – Messenger of Truth
Thursday, March 7th: Anglers Rest – Messenger of Truth
Thursday, March 7th: Lavish Bookshelf – An Incomplete Revenge
Friday, March 8th: Olduvai Reads – Maisie Dobbs
Friday, March 8th: 5 Minutes For Books – Pardonable Lies
Friday, March 8th: Anglers Rest – Among the Mad
Friday, March 8th: The Road to Here – Among the Mad
Friday, March 8th: A Bookish Way of Life – The Mapping of Love and Death
Friday, March 8th: The Book Garden – The Mapping of Love and Death
Monday, March 11th: The House of the Seven Tails – A Lesson in Secrets
Tuesday, March 12th: Starting Fresh – A Lesson in Secrets
Wednesday, March 13th: A Book Geek – A Lesson in Secrets
Thursday, March 14th: Lit and Life – A Lesson in Secrets
Friday, March 15th: Nonsuch Book – A Lesson in Secrets
Monday, March 18th: Short and Sweet Reviews – Elegy for Eddie
Tuesday, March 19th: Veronica M.D. – Elegy for Eddie
Tuesday, March 19th: Helen’s Book Blog – Elegy for Eddie
Wednesday, March 20th: guiltless reading – Elegy for Eddie
Thursday, March 21st: Booktalk & More – Elegy for Eddie
Friday, March 22nd: Library Queue – Elegy for Eddie
Monday, March 25th: A Bookworm’s World – Leaving Everything Most Loved
Monday, March 25th: cakes, tea and dreams – Leaving Everything Most Loved
Tuesday, March 26th: Oh! Paper Pages – Leaving Everything Most Loved
Wednesday, March 27th: The Written World – Leaving Everything Most Loved
Thursday, March 28th: Quirky Bookworm – Leaving Everything Most Loved
Friday, March 29th: nomadreader – Leaving Everything Most Loved





Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Waste Land by Simon Acland

The Waste Land: An Entertainment by Simon Acland
review copy provided by Beaufort Books in exchange for an honest review
Synopsis from publisher website:

The Waste Land chronicles the adventures of Hugh de Verdon, monk turned knight, during        the extraordinary historical events of the First rusade.  He journeys from the great Benedictine monastery of Cluny to Constantinople, Antioch, and Jerusalem.  He encounters the Assassins, endures a personal epiphany and discovers the “truth” behind the Holy Grail.
Hugh de Verdon’s tale is retold by a group of desperate Oxford professors, based on his autobiographical manuscript, discovered in their college library.  Their humorous – and murderous – story also provides a commentary on the eleventh-century events and shows that they are perhaps not all they seem.

My Take:
The Waste Land by Simon Acland was such a delight to read. I have struggled with exactly how to write about this book and my reactions to it without giving away too much of the plot. And really, this book needs to be discovered by the reader. The Prologue is enough of an introduction and build up to the story. The Prologue introduces the professors at St. Lazarus' College and their dilemma - they are in severe financial trouble and hope to obtain a large financial donation from a former student, the "Best-Selling Author", who wasn't a great student, but is their big hope. He is never called anything besides the Best-Selling Author and he too has a problem - no good ideas for his next novel. The Research Assistant - also never called anything else - has the solution: he has found a manuscript and thinks it would make a great novel. This is probably one of my favorite uses of the found manuscript plot device I've ever encountered. 

The book switches back and forth between the story of Hugh de Verdon, our monk turned knight, who is the hero of the found manuscript, and shorter interludes with the professors at St. Lazarus College. I found the sections involving the professors to be entertaining and insightful into the book as a whole. I thought it was cleverly and humorously done. The professors critique and complain and make observations about the manuscript - which is, of course, the book the reader is actually reading. Clever. Fun.

If you read the guest post by Simon Acland, you know that he is very knowledgeable about 12th and 13th Century Grail Romances, having studied them extensively at Oxford.  This knowledge of the Grail Romances is evident in the way Acland seamlessly blends the Grail legends and First Crusade history into his own tale of Hugh de Verdon and his adventures across the Holy Land. Simon Acland manages to be true to the Grail Romances while at the same time, putting a whole new spin on the legend and making it seem like it is history, not just a legend.

I really appreciated the fact that Acland didn't  try to make his story into a fanciful tale of chivalry; instead, he describes in gripping detail the brutal, violent, dirty, gross,  and frightening life that Hugh and the other knights encountered. This isn't a fairy tale version of the crusade. This is the portrayal of a violent crusade involving men who may not have had purely spiritual intentions when they signed up.

When I read The Waste Land, I read at a pretty fast pace for the story. I couldn't help myself. I tried to slow down and pick out various parts of the Grail legends, but would be swept up in the story. After I finished reading the book, I attempted to skim for specific references and for lines from T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, but would find myself deeply involved in Acland's story yet again. I think that says quite a bit about his storytelling.

I don't think I have ever enjoyed an Epilogue to a book more than the one in The Waste Land. I thought it was terribly clever and funny and the perfect way to set up a sequel. 

My recommendation is that everyone should read this book and then come back and discuss it with me. I loved so many things about it, but I can't bring myself to give away some of the best bits.







Simon Acland worked as a venture capitalist for over 20 years and wrote several books on investing and leadership. The Waste Landis his first novel. For more information, visit his website at :http://www.simonacland.com/wasteland.htm

Monday, March 11, 2013

Guest Post by Simon Acland, author of The Waste Land





THE GRAIL LEGEND IN MEDIEVAL AND MODERN FICTION
By Simon Acland, author of The Waste Land
The opening conceit of my novel The Waste Land is that a group of desperate Oxford dons discover an ancient manuscript in their library. They resolve to rescue the finances of their bankrupt college by turning this manuscript into a best-selling thriller (think The Da Vinci Code). The manuscript contains the autobiographical story of Hugh de Verdon, a monk turned knight who goes on the First Crusade (1096-99) and “discovers the truth about the Holy Grail”. What is more, the manuscript appears to be the Urtext, the original source material, for the very first medieval Grail romance written by Chrétien de Troyes around 1180.

I studied French and German at Oxford in the 1970s. Back then, Oxford was more than a little old-fashioned, and I found myself studying 12th and 13th Century Grail Romances as my special subject (that is Modern Languages at Oxford for you). However, I found them fascinating and became a fully signed-up Holy Grail geek. Later I read with amusement the books which adapted the medieval legends – The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, which caused a storm in 1982 by suggesting that the Holy Grail – the San Graal in medieval French – was actually a cipher for the royal blood line of Jesus Christ – the Sang Real in modern French. This was the central idea which was then taken into The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Not for nothing is Dan Brown’s villain called Sir Leigh Teabing.

My novel The Waste Land jokes that it all started with Hugh de Verdon’s story, but, in fact, it of course started with that fellow Chrétien de Troyes. Little is known about him, even though he was the Dan Brown of his day. He wrote several very popular chansons de geste, long poems with Arthurian themes about chivalry and damsels in distress, which in places were funny, and for medieval times, even erotic. Chrétien’s last work is called the Roman de Perceval.

In the Roman de Perceval, the knight of the title finds himself in a mysterious castle, and witnesses a strange procession, the centerpiece of which is a magical golden grail (in medieval French graal is a somewhat obscure word meaning a large serving dish, on which you might place a boar’s head or large salmon). Later on in the poem it transpires that the grail is used to feed and keep alive a wounded king, and it is at one point described as ‘tante sainte chose’ (‘such a holy thing’), but it is not linked specifically with Jesus Christ in any way. The land of this king (who happens to be Perceval’s uncle) is barren, laid waste, and Perceval missed the opportunity to lift the spell by asking questions of his host about the grail. The grail appears to be a cornucopia linked with Celtic legend more than a Christian object but it is never fully explained. So a great mystery is set up – what is the grail, why is the king wounded, what happens when the quest is fulfilled and the spell is lifted?

But Chrétien died before he could finish the story, leaving these questions unanswered. Imagine if Dan Brown had died before finishing The Da Vinci Code.

Such was Chrétien de Troyes’ popularity that several writers soon attempted to complete his story. The first of these to make a connection between the Grail and the vessel used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper and to catch Jesus’ blood when he was taken down from the Cross was Robert de Boron. This version contains many of the familiar elements of the legend - Joseph of Arimathea, Merlin, King Arthur, the questing knights – but it too was followed by other medieval versions which adapted the story to the individual interests of the writers. One version, Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach, introduced a loose connection with the Templars. Then, with the passing of the Middle Ages and of the interest in questing knights, the Grail fades from view. It isn’t really until the rekindling of interest in things gothic in the 19th Century that the Grail reappears as a cultural theme in Wagner’s opera Parsifal and the paintings of the pre-Raphaelites.

Sir James Frazer’s massive twelve-volume study of anthropology and folklore, The Golden Bough, published from 1890 to 1915, rekindled 20th century interest in ancient myth and legend.  In 1919 Jessie Weston focussed in on the Grail myth in her influential work From Ritual to Romance, and tied its origins firmly back to Celtic fertility legends. Three years later TS Eliot seized on the imagery of the Grail for his poem The Waste Land. Eliot acknowledges his debt to both these writers in the controversial notes to his great poem. In my turn, in homage, I have seized on Eliot’s title for my book, used snippets of his poem for my chapter headings, and buried 23 direct quotations in my text for eagle-eyed Eliot enthusiasts.

There was a trickle of Holy Grail books through the mid-20th Century, and some films, not least Monty Python and the Holy Grail (to which I have also paid a sort of homage by dressing up in Monty Pythones-que Crusader costume to do video interviews about my book).  You can watch the video here: http://www.meettheauthor.co.uk/bookbites/1915.html

 But it wasn’t really until the 1982 success of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail spawned a flood of imitation pseudo-histories and a torrent of similar fiction that the floodgates really opened. Given the size of the genre, I am not sure that I should have added to it, but I hope that you enjoy reading my lesser Waste Land if you have a chance to do so. For all its proud pedigree, it is a simple adventure story about a knight who falls in love and loses his beliefs, and firmly, as its sub-title suggests, intended as an Entertainment.

Simon Acland worked as a venture capitalist for over 20 years and wrote several books on investing and leadership. The Waste Land is his first novel. For more information, visit his website at :http://www.simonacland.com/wasteland.htm



Saturday, March 9, 2013

Teaser - The Waste Land by Simon Acland

Here is a chance to meet the author Simon Acland as he talks about his book The Waste Land in the video below. Check back on Monday for a guest post by Simon Acland himself, entitled "The Grail Legend in Medieval and Modern Fiction." Then, on Tuesday, my review will be posted. Be sure to check back and find out just how much I liked this book. 







Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Myth of Persecution Blog Tour and Review

The Myth of Persecution by Candida Moss
review copy provided by Harper One via TLC Book Tours
Synopsis:
According to Cherished Church tradition and popular belief, before the Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal in the fourth century, early Christians were systematically persecuted by a brutal Roman Empire intent on their destruction. As the story goes, vast numbers of believers were thrown to the lions, tortured, or burned alive because they refused to renounce Christ. These saints, Christianity’s inspirational heroes, are still venerated today.
In The Myth of Persecution, Candida Moss reveals that the “Age of Martyrs” is a fiction—there was no sustained three-hundred-year-long effort by the Romans to persecute Christians. Instead, these stories were pious exaggerations; highly stylized rewritings of Jewish, Greek, and Roman noble death traditions; and even forgeries designed to marginalize heretics, inspire the faithful, and fund churches.
The traditional story of persecution is still taught in Sunday school classes, celebrated in sermons, and employed by church leaders, politicians, and media pundits who insist that Christians were—and always will be—persecuted by a hostile, secular world. Moss urges modern Christians to abandon the conspiratorial assumption that the world is out to destroy the church and, rather, embrace the consolation, moral instruction, and spiritual guidance that these martyrdom stories provide.

My Take:

I think I’m coming at this review of –or more accurately, my response to - The Myth of Persecution by Candida Moss a bit differently from some of the other reviewers on this book tour. I don’t blog about religion or topics of faith. While I do read non-fiction, I don’t usually review non-fiction. This is an interesting subject and pertains to issues that are important today. I find religious history endlessly fascinating. This book was a wonderful opportunity to see what a New Testament and Early Christianity scholar has to say about an aspect of Christianity that has bothered me for some years – the idea that there is a “war on Christianity” being waged today, that Christians are being persecuted in some concerted manner. This book answered so many questions that I've had about the early Church. 

The Myth of Persecution is a book for a general audience, so it is very accessible, easily understood and while there are end notes (thank you for this – I love end notes) , they are not excessive.  The Introduction to the book is quite clear on the author's arguments and how the book will progress.  There are eight chapters and Candida Moss does an excellent of explaining her argument in each chapter and then giving evidence to support it. 

In the first chapter, Moss addresses the word “martyr”, its meaning, its history and the idea of martyrdom.  I found the history of the word martyr and how it morphed into its current meaning to be very important and so interesting. I am a big supporter of looking at the history of terms and how their usage changes over time.  This chapter examines the idea of martyrdom and exactly what that word means and whether it can be applied to other people besides Christians.

Keep in mind that Moss does not say that there were not Christian martyrs.  Yes, there were martyrs, yes they were persecuted – but not in the numbers and in the sustained and concentrated way that we learned about in Sunday school or heard from the pulpit. These stories were told and written down for a specific reason – usually to encourage orthodox behavior by using the martyr as a shining example of the correct way to behave. 

I can’t decide which chapter is my favorite: Chapter Four “How Persecuted Were the Early Christians?” or Chapter Five “Why did the Romans Dislike Christians?” For me, these two chapters really make the arguments for the whole book.  They examine the difference between “prosecution” and “persecution” and how both of these terms the applied to the early Christians. These chapters deal with the need to understand Roman laws and what behaviors would have been illegal and therefore warrant prosecution – as opposed to persecution.  The chapters also deal with the general attitudes of the day and how different early Christians sometimes acted and how this could cause problems.

Some people probably won’t want to believe some of the evidence Moss has cited in this book, but that doesn't make it untrue. We need to be able to read about the history of Christianity and accept historical facts as facts and not as an attack on faith.  I feel that Moss is very balanced, and even-handed in covering this topic. 

The only minor issue I had with the book was that I would have liked Moss to give more contemporary examples of the idea of the persecution of Christians today and the dangerous aspects to this belief. Examples are given, but I would like to see a few more. 

So, I’m sure it is pretty evident that I really like this book. I have discussed it with my husband and I am recommending it to friends and family. I think my book club would be especially open to this book. I can’t wait to discuss it with them.  If you enjoy history and are open to learning about early Christianity, you should really get your hands on a copy of The Myth of Persecution.  I am sure this is a book I will refer back to again and again.



My copy of The Myth of Persecution with all my tabs.





You can watch Candida Moss explain what the book is about in this video clip.




About Candida Moss

Candida Moss is professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame. A graduate of Oxford University, she earned her doctorate from Yale University. A frequent contributor to the National Geographic Channel, Moss is the award-winning author of several scholarly works on martyrdom, including The Other Christs and Ancient Christian Martyrdom. She lives in South Bend, Indiana.
Visit Moss at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

Candida’s Tour Stops

Wednesday, March 6th: RMP
Wednesday, March 6th: A Philosopher’s Blog
Thursday, March 7th: A Book Geek
Saturday, March 9th: The Musings of Thomas Verenna
Monday, March 11th: Aspire2
Tuesday, March 12th: Earliest Christianity
Thursday, March 14th: Do You Ever Think About Things You Do Think About?
Monday, March 18th: The Way Foreward
Tuesday, March 19th: The Dubious Disciple
Wednesday, March 20th: Exploring Our Matrix
Thursday, March 21st: The Gods Are Bored
Monday, March 25th: Broken Teepee